WTO suspends all meetings after staff member contracts virus
The World Trade Organization said Tuesday it would suspend all meetings until March 20 after one of its staff members contracted the new coronavirus.
“We take the health of secretariat staff and our members very seriously which is why we have taken this unprecedented step,” Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a statement.
The WTO said it had created a coronavirus task force to monitor developments and was prepared to respond to the evolving situation.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely and will take whatever measures are necessary to protect health and safety,” Azevedo said, adding that the global trade body would review the decision by the end of next week.
The WTO, which polices global trade accords in an effort to offer its member economies a level playing field, said the decision would take effect as of Wednesday and had been communicated to all member states.
The announcement came as Switzerland, where the WTO and a wide range of other international organisations are based, registered its third death and nearly 500 cases of COVID-19.
The first Swiss case was registered in the canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit Italy, on February 25.
Contrary to a range of other countries, Switzerland has not ordered school closures or other confinement measures, but it has banned all large events with more than 1,000 participants.
A number of its regions and cities have put the bar far lower, with Ticino banning events with more than 150 people.
Ticino has also banned visits to hospitals and retirement homes, but the canton has not yet closed its border with Italy, despite the lockdown in that country, and continues to allow the tens of thousands of Italians who work in Switzerland to cross each day.
The United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva has meanwhile closed its doors to visitors.
It has also curbed some activities linked to the Human Rights Council, including deciding Tuesday to move the proceedings to a larger hall and restricting the number of delegates allowed in to avoid crowding.
And the International Telecommunications Union decided Tuesday to postpone two large conferences planned this month and next, until August and September.